Protein May Hold Key to Alzheimer’s Root Cause

Protein May Hold Key to Alzheimer’s Root Cause

New research finds a promising explanation for how beta amyloid spurs Alzheimer’s, while another clinical trial may find a way to prevent the disease.

Specific Protein Might Be Alzheimer’s Root Cause

By Susan E. Matthews, Everyday Health Staff Writer
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Thursday, September 19, 2013 — On the heels of an announcement that the National Institutes of Health will invest $45 million in Alzheimer’s research and the release of the World Alzheimer Report 2013, research published today in Science suggests that a specific class of proteins may be responsible for making the protein beta amyloid toxic to the brain, which causes in the onset of the disease.

For years, researchers have struggled to understand the relationship between beta-amyloid and Alzheimer’s disease. While the buildup of beta amyloid plaques were found in the first cases of Alzheimer’s, and in every person who had the disease since, what puzzled researchers is that some people have comparable levels of beta-amyloid in the brain, but do not develop Alzheimer’s, or other negative effects.

Thus, “something else must be present to allow the amyloid to have neurotoxic effect,” said Richard Lipton, MD, professor and vice chair of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, who was not involved in the study but noted he’s been “looking for years for the other factors.”

“The single best idea I’ve ever seen for that is in this paper,” said Dr. Lipton. If the protein that the researchers have identified has the effect they assume it has on beta-amyloid, blocking that protein may protect people from Alzheimer’s.

Unexpected Protein in the Brain

Researchers from Stanford University built off of previous work they had done on a protein found in mice, PirB. Previously, this protein was thought to only exist in the immune system, where it binds to T-cells, but they realized it also appears in the brain, explained study author Carla Shatz, PhD, professor of neurobiology and biology at Stanford. When the protein was knocked out in mice models, the researchers realized the brain exhibited higher plasticity, which is essentially the opposite of Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers theorized that beta amyloids may be binding to PirB, which made PirB even stronger, and reduced plasticity at an even faster rate, causing the mental decline exhibited in Alzheimer’s disease.

The researchers crossed mice genetically modified to not carry PirB with mice genetically modified to have Alzheimer’s disease, and found that the resulting mice did not develop the disease nor did they exhibit the memory loss that accompanies the disease.

While this protein was only identified in mice, the researchers were able to identify the analogous protein in humans, LilrB2. This protein could be the target of a new drug therapy that could block it, which would hopefully prevent beta-amyloid from becoming toxic in the brain. As for those people who have high levels of beta-amyloid but not Alzheimer’s, Lipton suggested that they may be naturally deficient of LilrB2.

“This receptor is totally unexpected — it’s not even supposed to be in the brain,” said Dr. Shatz. She noted that while there is still work to be done to confirm the connection in humans, this may offer a new drug target.

Preventing Alzheimer’s Before it Starts

This isn’t the only good news about Alzheimer’s. Yesterday, a paper in the journal Neuron explained how new fluorescent scans may be able to track the progression of the disease, something that could help doctors diagnose the disease. Additionally, the NIH announced yesterday that they would throw $45 million in funds behind several new research projects on Alzheimer’s disease — the largest of which is a $33.2 million grant for a research project out of the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Phoenix. The project the grant is funding is also trying to understand how beta amyloid causes Alzheimer’s.

The theory the Banner group is working on is that while there are drugs aimed at reducing amyloids in the brain already, treatment isn’t approved to start until after someone has exhibited signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

None of these treatments has been particularly effective, though, Lipton said.

“The brain has a lot of reserves, and it can withstand lots of loss before dementia develops,” explained Lipton. “By the time Alzheimer’s becomes diagnosable, there’s already huge losses of brain cells and disruption of networks. The horse is already out of the barn.”

The researchers behind the Banner projected, headed by Eric Reiman, MD, executive director of Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, realize this. “Some of these treatments might have their most profound effect if they’re started before the onset of symptoms — before the disease has ravaged the brain,” Dr. Reiman said. So the NIH-funded study is recruiting individuals who have a high genetic likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease, but who are so young that they haven’t yet. Their Alzheimer’s prevention registry is already looking for people who may want to be part of the trial. The trials will see if given them a therapy to attack amyloids will reduce their chances of developing Alzheimer’s down the line.

“So far, most studies have focused either on people who have it already or on people who have cognitive impairment,” Lipton said. “That’s the real strength of what the banner group is doing — they’re identifying people very, very early.”

The clinical trial will use “all of the best-established brain imaging” so that the researchers can best understand the results of the treatment. While this makes the trial more expensive, Reiman said he is hopeful that if the treatment seems effective, this could lead to a means of preventing the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in the next generation. “We’re extremely grateful to the NIH and feel a responsibility to get this right,” he said.

State of Alzheimer’s Globally

According to the World Alzheimer Report 2013, released today, more and more people are getting the disease, which is placing an inordinate burden on caretakers and increasing health care costs. Currently, the cost of dementia on the world is equal to 1 percent of global GDP, or roughly $600 billion. By 2050, 227 million adults are expected to require a care giver to help them handle the disease.

Because older adults are living longer than they ever have before, more people are living long enough to get the disease (the risk of the disease increases as people age), Lipton said. Alzheimer’s disease research is chronically underfunded, he said.

“If research funding were proportionate to societal disease burden, then the investment on research into dementia prevention and treatment would need to be increased up to tenfold in order to achieve parity with current investment on research into cancer and cardiovascular disease,” said Martin Prince, professor at King’s College London and author of the report.

The report calls for more investment in both fundamental research on prevention and treatment, but also improvements to how people with the disease are cared for.

For Reiman, the report hits on both of Banner’s goals —that of the clinical trial to accelerate a prevention therapy, and another goal to “establish a new standard of care for patients and care givers.” Reiman emphasized that even though his research is currently focused on prevention, he cannot give up on his clinical patients that already have the disease. At his clinic, they attempt to provide comprehensive care not only for the patients, but also for care givers, who receive a brunt of the stress associated with the disease.

Blueberries, Grapes and Apples Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes

Blueberries, Grapes and Apples Linked to Lower Risk of Diabetes

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A large cohort study involving researchers from the U.S., U.K. and Singapore, which focused on individual fruit consumption and risk of diabetes, reveals that certain fruits—but not juices—may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes in adults. The study pulled data from three studies: the Nurses’ Health Study )NHS 1984-2008), the Nurses’ Health Study II (NHS II 1991-2009) and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS 1986-2008).

In total, there were 187,382 participants, both men and women, who took part in the study, and participants who had diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start were not included. The researchers used food frequency questionnaires every 4 years in order to analyze the participants’ diet, and ten fruits were used in the study: grapes or raisins; peaches, plums or apricots; prunes; bananas; cantaloupe; apples or pears; oranges; grapefruit; strawberries; blueberries. Additionally, fruit juice, such as apple, orange and grapefruit juice, was included.

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Over the course of the study, 6.5% of the participants developed diabetes, but the researchers found that consuming three servings per week of blueberries, grapes, raisins, apples or pears reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes by 7%. However, the results also showed that the greater amount of fruit juice an individual drank, the more their risk for type 2 diabetes increased.

In general, substituting fruit juice with whole fruits decreased this risk, but strawberries and cantaloupe were the exception to this finding. The researchers write in the study, “Individual fruits might not be equally associated with risk of type 2 diabetes in that fruits have highly variable contents of fiber, antioxidants, other nutrients, and phytochemicals that jointly may influence the risk.”

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They add that their results support current recommendations to eat more and a diverse range of whole fruits in order to prevent diabetes. Medical News Today recently reported that eating fruits, such as apples, pears and bananas, could cut your risk of abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle, Wellstyles Newsletter, October 2013, Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT).

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People treated for sleep apnea look younger, more attractive

People treated for sleep apnea look younger, more attractive

Published September 16, 2013

FoxNews.com
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    ISTOCK

People suffering from sleep apnea appeared more alert, youthful and attractive after undergoing treatment for two months, Medical News Today reported.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 20 adults with obstructive sleep apnea – a condition linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and stroke –  were treated using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

CPAP therapy requires patients to wear a face mask while they sleep in order to open their airway. The treatment can help relieve snoring, improve alertness and lower blood pressure.

In order to measure the attractiveness of the patients, researchers used a system known as “photogrammetry” to capture 3D photos both before and two months after each patient underwent CPAP therapy. The volume and color of patients’ faces was analyzed using computer software and the “before” and “after” photos of each patient were also rated for measures of attractiveness by 22 volunteers.

Overall, 68 percent of ratings indicated that patients looked more alert after treatment, 67 percent noted that they appeared more attractive and 64 percent  characterized them as more youthful. Furthermore, the computer software analysis indicated a decrease in volume in the patients’ faces and less redness in the eyes and cheeks after undergoing CPAP therapy.

Researchers hope their study will encourage patients to receive treatment for sleep apnea – and stick with it.

“This may help convince patients to use their CPAP machines on a nightly basis,” lead study author Dr. Ronald D. Chervin, of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, said.

Diabetes Lifetime Costs—As Expensive as a House?

Diabetes Lifetime Costs—As Expensive as a House?

A recent report breaks down the costs of living with type 2 diabetes over the course of a lifetime. The dollar amount is eye-opening, and so are the differences in costs between men and women. To calculate the costs of living with type 2 diabetes on an individual basis, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Research Triangle International created a simulation model that could compile the costs of both treating the condition and managing its complications. This is as opposed to only focusing on the overall economic burden of treating type 2 diabetes in a year.

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The findings reveal that on average, a person with type 2 diabetes spends more than $85,000 over the course of their lifetime on treating the disease and managing complications. Additionally, the point at which a person is diagnosed with the disease can affect how much they spend during their lifetime. For example, a man diagnosed with type 2 diabetes when he is between 25 and 44 will spend $124,700. But women from the same age range will pay over $5,000 more, at $130,800 during their lifetime. Researchers note that costs go down the later in life a person is diagnosed with the condition.

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The costs include not only those directly related to treating diabetes, but also to treating complications like kidney disease, nerve and eye damage, heart disease, amputations and stroke. The amount of money spent each year on treating diabetes has significantly risen recently. Robert Ratner from the American Diabetes Association says that direct medical costs for treating diabetes totaled $176 billion in 2012. “This is up 40% in 5 years,” he says.

On the more positive side, he notes that complications from diabetes have decreased due to better blood sugar level control. In fact, he points to a 50% decrease in amputations and a 35% decrease in dialysis or transplantation for kidney disease in the past 12 years. However, Ratner says that the benefits of these positive outcomes are overshadowed by the number of new cases of the disease each year. Ratner says, “When you look at the annual costs, you can clearly see this is an untenable rate of growth.”

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Quite a few studies have recently suggested ways to decrease the incidence of the disease. For example, some recommend that “catch-up” sleep could prevent type 2 diabetes, while others recommend taking short walks to lower risk of the disease.

 

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle, Wellstyles Newsletter, September 2013, Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT).

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4 reasons chocolate is good for your health

4 reasons chocolate is good for your health

By Deborah Enos

Published September 23, 2013

LiveScience
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    CAGRI OZGUR

Chocolate is one of my favorite foods; not only because it is tasty, but also because it’s really good for your health.

The most recent evidence of this comes from an August study in the journal Neurology.  Researchers found that chocolate may help older people keep their brains healthy and their thinking sharp. Study participants who drank two cups of cocoa daily for 30 days showed an 8.3 percent increase in blood flow to the brain, and they improved their scores on memory and thinking tests. Score!

This new finding is promising, but it’s not the only health benefit that seems to come as a result of eating chocolate. Here are three more reasons why it’s smart to keep chocolate in your diet.

  • Heart Healthy — Daily chocolate consumption may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in some high-risk patients, according to a 2012 study in the journal BMJ.
  • Potentially Slimming —  If you’ve always thought of chocolate as a fat-inducing food, you may want to reacquaint yourself with this tasty treat. One study found that people who eat chocolate regularly are more likely to be thinner than those who don’t. People in the study who admitted to eating chocolate five times per week or more had a lower BMI (Body Mass Index) than those who ate chocolate less frequently, according to the 2012 study published the journal Archives of Internal Medicine. [Top 10 Bad Things That Are Good For You]
  • Appetite Control — Chocolate contains filling fiber, which is a natural appetite suppressant. So, if you give in to that chocolate craving, you may end up eating fewer calories than if you tried to avoid chocolate.

Although there are many reasons to enjoy chocolate, it’s also important to be smart about your consumption. Here are some tips for choosing high-quality chocolate, so you can retain all of its nutritional goodness.

The darker the chocolate, the better for your health. Pure chocolate is actually quite bitter, which is why it is almost always combined with other ingredients in a chocolate bar. But the chocolate part of that bar is what contains the good stuff: fiber, magnesium and antioxidants.

Make your own hot cocoa.  Hot cocoa that comes out of a packet is convenient, but it could be better for your health. To boost the nutritional profile of your hot cocoa, buy unsweetened powdered chocolate, and add your own sweetener. Also, keep it as dark as you can handle.

Get creative with cocoa. If you don’t like the idea of eating a dark chocolate bar or drinking cocoa regularly, you have some other options. Try sprinkling powdered cocoa in your oatmeal or cold cereal.

People treated for sleep apnea look younger, more attractive

People treated for sleep apnea look younger, more attractive

Published September 16, 2013

FoxNews.com
  • DREAMING.jpg
    ISTOCK

People suffering from sleep apnea appeared more alert, youthful and attractive after undergoing treatment for two months, Medical News Today reported.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 20 adults with obstructive sleep apnea – a condition linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and stroke –  were treated using continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy.

CPAP therapy requires patients to wear a face mask while they sleep in order to open their airway. The treatment can help relieve snoring, improve alertness and lower blood pressure.

In order to measure the attractiveness of the patients, researchers used a system known as “photogrammetry” to capture 3D photos both before and two months after each patient underwent CPAP therapy. The volume and color of patients’ faces was analyzed using computer software and the “before” and “after” photos of each patient were also rated for measures of attractiveness by 22 volunteers.

Overall, 68 percent of ratings indicated that patients looked more alert after treatment, 67 percent noted that they appeared more attractive and 64 percent  characterized them as more youthful. Furthermore, the computer software analysis indicated a decrease in volume in the patients’ faces and less redness in the eyes and cheeks after undergoing CPAP therapy.

Researchers hope their study will encourage patients to receive treatment for sleep apnea – and stick with it.

“This may help convince patients to use their CPAP machines on a nightly basis,” lead study author Dr. Ronald D. Chervin, of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Michigan, said.

Tiny 3D-printed organs could enable better drug testing

Tiny 3D-printed organs could enable better drug testing

By Jeremy Hsu

Published September 16, 2013

LiveScience
  • 3d-organs-3

    Hyun-Wook Kang oversees the 3D printer that will be used to print miniature organs for the “body on a chip” system. (WIFM.)

Miniature human organs made by 3D printing could create a “body on a chip” that enables better drug testing. That futuristic idea has become a new bioprinting project backed by $24 million from the U.S. Department of Defense.

The 2-inch “body on a chip” would represent a realistic testing ground for understanding how the human body might react to dangerous diseases, chemical warfare agents and new drugs intended to defend against biological or chemical attacks. Such technology could speed up drug development by replacing less-ideal animal testing or the simpler testing done on human cells in petri dishes and perhaps save millions or even billions of dollars from being wasted on dead-end drug candidates that fail in human clinical trials.

“The question is whether can you have a better system to test these drugs, so that you can bypass cell testing and animal testing by going straight to miniature organs,” said Tony Atala, director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Atala’s group has pioneered 3D printing methods that aim to build human organs with layer upon layer of cells. Their bioprinting methods lay down the cell layers along with artificial scaffolding to keep an organ’s structure intact as it takes shape a technique that has allowed the group to make tiny, less complex versions of full-size human organs. [See Photos of the 3D-Printed ‘Body on a Chip’ System]

“We’re printing miniature solid organs: miniature livers, hearts, lungs and vascular structures (blood vessels),” Atala said.

The tiny organs intended for the “body on a chip” project don’t represent fully functional hearts, livers and kidneys. Instead, they represent small chunks of human tissue from such organs connected together by a system of fluid channels that circulate blood substitute to keep the cells alive all placed on a 2-inch (5 centimeters) chip with sensors to monitor everything.

Having an artificial circulatory system means researchers can introduce biological or chemical agents into the “blood” to see how it affects the different organs. The system’s sensors would measure the temperature, oxygen levels, pH (how acidic or basic a fluid is) and other factors affecting the “body on a chip.”

The Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is leading the $24-million effort funded by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Pacific (SSC Pacific), on behalf of Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA).

But the group of experts building the “body on a chip” also hails from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the University of Michigan, the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, Morgan State University in Baltimore, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Together, they hope to create a drug development tool for the 21st century that helps modern medicine rapidly respond to fast-moving pandemics or bioterrorism attacks.

“We will know not just how a drug affects one organ, but how a drug affects major body systems together in a chip,” Atala said.

Vaccine eradicates virus that causes AIDS in monkeys

Vaccine eradicates virus that causes AIDS in monkeys

Published September 13, 2013

FoxNews.com
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Researchers from the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have reported a major breakthrough in the field of HIV research, claiming they have created a vaccine that completely eradicates the virus that causes AIDS in some monkeys, Discovery News reported.

And the next step? Testing the vaccine in humans.

Their research, which was published in the journal Nature, showed that half of the monkeys they tested responded to the vaccine.  The monkeys were infected with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), which is similar to HIV in humans but 100 times more deadly.

“It’s always tough to claim eradication — there could always be a cell which we didn’t analyze that has the virus in it,” Louis Picker, of the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute at OHSU, told the BBC News. “But for the most part, with very stringent criteria … there was no virus left in the body of these monkeys.”

According to Discovery News, Picker and his team created the vaccine by using a modified version of a common – though mostly harmless – virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV).  When the CMV was exposed to the SIV, it prompted the monkey’s white blood cells to respond and attack the SIV.

Of the monkeys who responded to the vaccine, they were still SIV-free up to three years later.

“Through this method, we were able to teach the monkey’s body to better ‘prepare its defenses’ to combat the disease,” Picker said in a press release.

While the researchers are still trying to determine why some monkeys did not successfully respond to the vaccine, they are hopeful that this technique could work in humans.  They have licensed the CMV method to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, and if it is approved by the proper regulatory authorities, Picker said they could potentially start clinical trials in humans in the next two years.

Scientists have come a long way in the field of HIV/AIDS research, and although there is still no cure for the virus, a diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it used to be.   Many anti-retroviral drug combinations are currently available to patients – such as non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), protease inhibitors (PIs) and integrase inhibitors – which help to control the virus before it becomes too aggressive.  Researchers have also discovered ways to combine these drugs into a single pill that HIV/AIDS patients take each day.

There have also been many anecdotal reports of near HIV eradication in humans. In July, two HIV-positive patients in the United States who underwent bone marrow transplants for cancer stopped their anti-retroviral therapy and showed no detectable signs of the HIV virus.  And in March, doctors from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the University of Mississippi announced a case in which a Mississippi baby born with HIV was seemingly “cured” of the disease, after a pediatric specialist started the baby on a three-drug infusion within 30 hours of birth.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/09/13/vaccine-eradicates-virus-that-causes-aids-in-monkeys/#ixzz2enhpA7MI

Big Breakfast Healthier Than a Big Dinner

Big Breakfast Healthier Than a Big Dinner

Researchers have found that eating a big breakfast of 700 calories promotes weight loss and reduces risks for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol. The study comes from Tel Aviv University, where Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz and colleagues studied the impact of different caloric intake at varying times of day. What they found is that the time of day we eat has a significant impact on how our bodies process food.

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To study how this timing affects our bodies, the team put 93 obese women into two different groups:

  • “Big breakfast group” – consumed 700 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 at dinner
  • “Big dinner group” – consumed 200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner.

The women’s diets consisted of moderate fats and carbohydrates, totaling 1,400 calories, and they followed the diets for 12 weeks. The 700-calorie meals, whether eaten for breakfast or dinner, contained the exact same foods, and included a dessert item such as a piece of chocolate cake or a cookie.

  • The women in the big breakfast group lost, on average, 17.8 pounds and 3 inches from their waist.
  • The women in the big dinner group, on the other hand, only lost 7.3 pounds and 1.4 inches from their waist.

Additionally, the women from the big breakfast group had larger decreases in insulin, glucose and triglyceride levels than the women from the big dinner group.

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The researchers note that one of the most important findings is that the women from the big breakfast group did not experience high blood glucose level spikes that normally occur after a meal. Although the big dinner group was eating a sensible diet and losing weight, the researchers actually found that their triglycerides—a type of fat found in the body—increased, putting them at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

The American Diabetes Association says that even if you are not a fan of so-called traditional breakfast foods, you can switch up what you want to eat in the morning and opt for soup, a sandwich or even a slice of pizza. The organization even recommends some creative ideas for maximizing the most important meal of the day:

  • Breakfast Shake: 1 cup fat free milk or plain non-fat yogurt, blended with 1/2 cup fruit, 1tsp wheat germ and add 1tsp nuts or nut butter, ice and whirl
  • Berries and muffin: Split open a small bran muffin and place on a plate. Top with fresh berries and a dollop of fresh yogurt
  • Bagel and chutney: Spread mango chutney on a small bagel, and pair it with a side of cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon
  • Baked Potato and Cheese: A little unconventional for breakfast, but delicious. Top one half of a medium leftover baked potato (or microwave a raw one for 10-15 minutes) with low fat cheddar cheese and a spoonful of salsa. Return to the heat until the cheese melts
  • Breakfast Sandwich: Top a whole wheat English muffin or whole wheat pita with 1 ounce lean ham and a flavored mustard. Pair it with fresh fruit and a small wedge of low fat cheese.

Victoria Taylor from the British Heart Foundation notes that the study from the University of Tel Aviv stresses how important the timing of our meals is for our health. Though she does say that this is a small, short-term study and therefore further research is needed to check long-term results and effects for men, she suggests eating in the morning to promote weight loss. She adds, “Wholegrain toast or breakfast cereals with low-fat milk will make that mid-morning snack less tempting. If you’re going for a cooked breakfast, try poached eggs instead of fried and make sure you grill any bacon or sausages.” A 2012 study shows that eating egg proteins for breakfast may help you feel fuller for longer.

Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com

Provided by Rebecca McGonigle, Wellstyles Newsletter, September 2013, Valley Schools Employee Benefits Trust (VSEBT).

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Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness

Learn how to say “yes” to the present moment.
Published on February 22, 2012 by Melanie A. Greenberg, Ph.D. in The Mindful Self-Express
mindful meditation

Meditation is one aspect of mindfulness

Most people these days are stressed out by the fast pace of life, economy, and worries about the future. In a recent survey, conducted in the UK, a whopping 86 percent agreed that “people would be much happier and healthier if they knew how to slow down and live in the moment” (Mental Health Foundation, 2010).  It is no wonder that mindfulness has rapidly gained attention in the popular press and is one of the few complementary medicine techniques to be offered in  hospitals and clinics worldwide. But what exactly is mindfulness?Mindfulness is a mind-body medicine practice, based on ancient Zen Buddhist meditation techniques, that was popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is an internal resource that all of us already have within us. The idea is to channel or direct this resource to transform our relationships with stress, emotions, pain, and illness. Indeed, controlled research studies suggest that mindfulness-based interventions can effectively reduce symptoms in people with chronic pain, recurrent depression, anxiety disorders,substance abusebinge-eating, and many other health conditions. Mindfulness interventions have also been shown to change the brain’s grey matter and reactivity to emotional stimuli in ways that promote greater conscious control over emotion.

While most people seem to think that mindfulness is a good thing, many people are confused about what exactly mindfulness is. Does it involve emptying the brain of thoughts, inducing relaxation, or going into a trance? Do you have to go live in an ashram and retreat from the material world to practice it effectively?  Is it a kind of religion or cult, and is it potentially dangerous?  In fact, none of the above have been shown to be true. Below is a description of some key concepts that can help illuminate what it means to have a mindful attitude to life.

 

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The beauty of the present moment

Focus on the Present Moment—When your thoughts get lost in thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you bring them back to what you are experiencing right now. You try to remain open to how things unfold in the present, rather than having preconceived ideas about how things will or should turn out. Being Fully PresentYou are spaciously aware of whatever you are experiencing in the present moment as you go through your daily life. What do you feel in your body? What are you seeing, hearing, doing – right now?

Openness to Experience—Rather than dreading and shutting out your own feelings and experiences because you think you can’t handle them, you welcome with curiosity any thoughts and feelings that naturally arise, knowing they are merely sensations in the moment and the next moment can be different. You create mental spaciousness to contain these thoughts and fellings. Become aware of your experience as a flow of sensations, thoughts, and feelings and watch how these change and transform naturally over time.

Non-Judgment—You don’t categorize your thoughts and feelings as good or bad, try to change them, or feel compelled to act on them. All feelings have a purpose, whether to protect you from danger or open you to love. You watch and accept whatever arises in consciousness with an open mind. You extend this non-judging attitude to other people and things.

Acceptance of Things as They Are—You don’t try to force or change reality to fit your vision of what it should be, feel like a victim, or bemoan the unfairness of life. Instead, you try to see reality clearly and let it be as it is, knowing that you can tolerate whatever it is that comes up. You extend this acceptance to others, knowing they are the best judges of what is right for them.

Connection—You feel connected to all living things and nature in being part of a larger whole. You reflect on and feel grateful for the cycle of life and the food, beauty, and protection that nature gives us. You know that all living beings want to feel happy and secure and avoid suffering and you feel connected by similarity of needs and experience.

Non-Attachment—You do not try to hold onto things, people, or experiences, knowing that life is in constant flow. Attachment comes fromfear and is the basis of suffering. You learn to surf the wave of life, going with the flow and being confident in your own ability to adapt. When one door closes, another opens.

 

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Mindfully walking a labyrinth

Peace and Equanimity—You maintain an even-keel, not getting too swept up in life’s highs and lows. You know that life is a cycle and you can’t see the whole picture at any one moment. When things don’t go your way, you stay firmly rooted in your own clear vision and values. You walk with a peaceful heart and adopt a non-harming, non-violent attitude. Compassion—You deal gently, kindly, and patiently with yourself and others. Rather than judging, or condemning, you open your heart to really listen and try to understand your own and other people’s experiences. You allow yourself to feel other people’s suffering. You love people not for what they can give you or because you need something from them, but because you connect and empathize with their experiences.

With these concepts in mind, you can begin to introduce mindfulness into your own life, whether it is by deliberately directing attention to your breath and senses at different times during the day, taking a mindful nature walk, or beginning a simple meditation practice. You might want to center your attention on each in- and out-breath, noticing the length, quality, and sensations of the breath moving in and out of your body, without trying to force or change it in any way. You may also begin to become aware of the times in the day that you operate “mindlessly,” and on automatic pilot, your head so busy with plans and worries, that you don’t even notice what you feel inside or what is around you.

Developing an observing mind that watches your own daily experience, notices your automatic patterns, and gently redirects attention to the present moment is the beginning of growing a “mindfulness muscle” to help you navigate the winds of change and stresses in your life. “As Eckhart Tolle so eloquently said: “Always say “yes” to the present moment. Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life—and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.”

About The Author

Melanie Greenberg is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Mill Valley, Marin County, CA. She is also a researcher, author, and national speaker with expertise in life stress, relationships, mind-body health, and effects of society and media on human behavior.

Visit  my website at  http://melaniegreenbergphd.com/marin-psychologist/  for original research articles and therapy services

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Read my personal blog: http://marinpsychologist.blogspot.com